Ways of pleasure – introduction

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WAYS OF PLEASURE

introduction

In Chapter Two I take up the issue of Carter’s fascination with dandyism. I argue that in the frame of allusions varying from echoing the decadent esthetics of Wilde and Firbank, through the fleeting fascination with the sixties countercultural style, to admiration of camp esthetics, Carter reconsiders dandy-like pleasures found in aimless play with costume and decoration. My primary objective in Chapter Three is to examine pleasures derived from the possession of objects as presented by Carter in her studies of the delightful potential of artificiality and artefacts. Her descriptions of works of art – things which give esthetical gratification and which are defined as ‘art’ by their uselessness, are here contrasted with pleasures obtained from becoming objects.

Additionally, I explore Carter’s fascination with the psychic mechanisms of fetishism and voyeurism involved in watching, and her play with the notions of subject and object. Here I demonstrate how by referring to the notion of narcissism she undermines the cliché view that male desire makes women passive objects of masculine gaze devised to produce pleasure in the male subject-spectator. In Carter’s texts patterns of voyeuristic pleasure are created according to the psychological needs of both male and female narcissist subjects who want to be looked at and thus obtain their own kind of gratification. I moreover address the theme recurring in Carter’s prose – the motif of subverting the artefact-artificer relationship – in the light of pleasures such a subversion may produce.

Chapter Four is a continuation of previous concerns. Here I deal with libertine pleasures of sadism and masochism as presented in Carter’s fiction and non-fiction. I examine her controversial analysis of de Sade’s oeuvre, her essays on Japanese masochist culture and her essays on Recession esthetics in order to ground the further discussion of the diverse kinds of gratifying master-slave relationships found in her prose. I develop an extended analysis of her chosen stories to demonstrate the connection between libertinism and artificiality as Carter views it.

In Chapter Five I approach the influence of psychoanalysis on Carter’s vision of pleasure as defined by our culture. Using a close analysis of her chosen stories and articles, I present re-workings of Freud’s writing embedded in her ‘discourse of delight’ together with her opinion on vulgar psychoanalysis Is there such a word? as an influential cultural motif.

Discourse of delight’ is thus demonstrated not only to examine the ways of pleasure of our culture, but also to produce gratification as this consists of making the text a play-thing rather than an ideological statement. And this, I argue, is true for the whole range of Angela Carter’s works: novels, short stories, articles, screen-plays and radio plays. Though one part of this oeuvre belongs in fiction and the other in cultural criticism, and though they do interact with each other and pass judgments on our civilization, Carter does not stop at commenting on the ways of pleasure. She also proffers her readers the delight of reading, pleasure independent of extratextual context, this being something which, I strongly believe, will stand the test of time. ‘Discourse of delight’ aims at reaffirming the pleasurability of books, and this was always Carter’s ultimate goal. As she puts it in her quasi-manifesto “Notes from the Front Line” (1985): ‘I wanted to write stories that could be read by glittering candlelight in the ruins of our cities and still give pleasure’ (Carter 1997: 43).